Growing Up In An All-Too-Brief Period Of Normalcy.
When Irving Guttman was born in 1915, Poland was the rope in a devastating and deadly tug-of-war between Germany and Russia. The "Great War" was in full swing, and would claim about 20 million lives and would not end until 1918. Irving's home country was in the thick of it.
Shtetl was the name given to the predominantly Jewish towns and villages that formed outside of urban, eastern European areas before the start of the war. Jews lived among other Jews, segregated from the majority in towns that spoke their own language and had their own distinct culture. Jews in western Europe generally assimilated and adopted the culture of their non-Jewish neighbors.
Irving was raised in Zloczow, Poland, a town with a number of synagogues, located about 40 minutes from what was known then as the capitol. It was common in that era for Jewish towns to settle on the outskirts of European cities.
"It was strictly a Jewish town,” Irving said, describing Zloczow. “The majority of the people were Jewish."
One of six kids — three boys and three girls — Irving and his siblings were raised by parents who owned a successful creamery. As successful as it was, it was equally as demanding to meet the needs of its retail and wholesale operations.
The creamery was so vital to the family's prosperity, Irving left school after seventh grade to work full-time at the family business.
"The creamery kept us busy", he said. "Until the Russians marched in. When they marched in, in 1939, we were liquidated. There was no more business."
Irving was just 24.
Poland didn't exist as an independent country until the conclusion of WWI in 1918, and even then it needed four more years to see the international community recognize its established boundaries.
A chaotic but somewhat democratic system, supported by agrarian policy, fostered a period of robust growth propped up in part by a redistribution of land to the region's peasants. A country torn apart by war for years, Poland was now a land of many people, including Ukrainians, Jews, Belarusians, Lithuanians and Germans.
Slowly, though, they began to feel the influence of Nazi Germany.
"Little by little, year after year, we had less items that we
needed for our way of life."
— Irving Guttman
Independent Polish state forms
Treaty of Versailles signed, recognizing end to WWI
Agrarian policy takes hold in Poland
Adolf Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany
Hitler declares himself Fuhrer of Germany, becoming a dictator
Nuremberg Laws enacted creating a set of anti-Jewish racial policies
Jewish doctors banned from practice in Germany
All Jewish property held in Germany must be registered, Jewish students expelled from German schools, Jewish passports marked with "J" in Germany to prevent immigration to Switzerland
Russian forces invade Poland from the East